TAMPA — When Wendy Albano came back from a recent business trip to India, her friend had a question.
Wasn't she scared of walking around India "alone, so far from home," asked her friend Maxine Stull.
No, Albano answered. It was an adventure.
Albano, a South Tampa socialite who decorated homes for the rich and famous, died Sunday — slain in her room at a chic hotel in Bangkok, Thailand, her family says.
Authorities are looking for an Indian man who they suspect stabbed Albano to death, according to Thai news reports.
Her family says Albano, 51, knew the man. They were business partners. She had met him — and his family — during a previous business trip to India as she worked on launching a design and fashion-import business.
Albano traveled to Thailand earlier this month. The man was there with her.
The U.S. Embassy in Bangkok notified Albano's family of her death earlier this week. Wednesday, they gathered to mourn their loss.
"I loved my mother dearly," said her daughter, Jenny Albano. "Obviously, we're just trying to work through this the best we can."
Wendy Albano checked into the Fraser Suites Sukhumvit on Feb. 9. She was last seen on a hotel surveillance camera entering her room with the man on Sunday evening. He left about an hour later with luggage in his hands. Authorities say he has fled the country, according to Thai news reports. Maids found Albano on Monday.
The Albano family declined to discuss the details of the murder.
Albano graduated from the University of Florida in the early '80s. She met her first husband, Bob Albano, in school. Friends remember her as a social butterfly who studied marketing and attended functions at the Sigma Alpha Epsilon Fraternity.
She and her husband moved to South Tampa. Albano gave birth to two daughters, Jenny and Lauren, now adults, and worked in real estate. Over the years, she made many friends.
LynnMarie Boltze remembers meeting Albano at a Christmas party six years ago. Her smile and energy drew Boltze in.
"She was so stunning and so beautiful," Boltze said. "She just saw life as, 'I gotta live it!' "
Her neighbor and friend, Pete Peterson, said Albano was a person you wanted at every party.
"She was just dynamic and fun," he said.
Albano divorced and later married Brian Stein, an artist, in 2007. Though they divorced last fall, they remained friends.
She lived in a condo off Bayshore Boulevard with her six cats: Bobo, Bebe, Lily, Rudy, Philly and Nelson.
Albano owned an interior design business, Wendy Albano Interiors, and had done many high-profile projects. Friends say she did Derek Jeter's $20 million apartment in Manhattan.
Peterson hired Albano to redecorate his dining room. She did a fantastic job, he said.
"She just had a real artistic flair," he said.
Friend Maxine Stull choked up when talking about Albano on Wednesday. The pair met in college and have been in and out of each other's lives for decades. They had recently reconnected, and Stull was considering moving in with Albano.
She remembers Albano as a proud mother and loyal friend, someone who truly cared about what was going on in others' lives.
The last time the two spoke, it was over the phone shortly before Albano left for Thailand. Albano was in good spirits. They talked about the man she was dating and "how happy she was," Stull said.
"She was always so positive," Stull said. "What happened, that's the kind of thing that didn't happen in her world."
Times staff writer Amy Scherzer and news researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3433.